Muhammad Ali to the Rescue

On June 3, 2016 Muhammad Ali died. He was the greatest boxer of all time. His boxing style was impeccable. He was the heavy-weight champion, in the so-called “golden era” for heavy weight champions. He raised his persona with the gift of gab that was regularly targeted at his opponents (aka he talked a lot of trash). His gift of gab was so prolific, in fact, articles were written on how he influenced hip-hop music.

While his list of athletic accomplishments, his legend, and his influence during the Civil Rights Movements in the 1960s are profoundly impactful, there are perhaps some lesser known, or long-forgotten tales of how he used his fame to help rescue others.

On January 27, 1981, while in Los Angeles for business, Muhammad Ali rescued a 21-year old suicidal man who was threatening to jump from a nine-story building. The 21-year old man, distraught with his life, contended no one cared for him and he was a nobody. For 20 minutes, Muhammad Ali tried to soothe his pain with his words of compassion and hope. Muhammad’s pleas worked and rescued the man, Muhammad even escorted him to the local hospital to be checked.

Prior to the Gulf War, Muhammad Ali ventured his way to Iraq with the goal of meeting Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of 15 American hostages, who were captured during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. By all accounts his trip to Iraq was purely humanitarian and did not have the backing of the George H.W. Bush administration. Some at the time questioned his motives as a way to garner more publicity for him. Rather, it was a savvy move. The most famous athlete and probably the most famous muslim in the world used his influence and persona to convince Saddam Hussein to release the American hostages to him.

getty images

In 2009, American hikers Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and Shane Bauer were captured and arrested by the Iranian government for alleged spying. In 2014, Jason Rezaian, a Tehran correspondent for the Washington Post, was arrested on charges that also included espionage. In both cases, Muhammad Ali urged the Iranian government to release them, citing for the Iranian government to show compassion and provide this as an example to the world how warm the Iranian people can be. It must be said, however, that Muhammad Ali’s pleas to the Iranian government wasn’t the deciding factor for their release, but undoubtedly they did provide a measure of influence in the decision. (R-Shane Bauer, M-Sarah Shourd, L-Joshua Fattal (Jason Rezian)

In the latter instances, it shows not only the cross-cultural influence that Muhammad Ali has in the world, but it shows how deep the reverence is for him in the Muslim world. By all accounts, Muhammad Ali was deeply respected for his faith and practice in Islam, but also his humanitarian efforts in lifting up those in need. Could his influence work in today’s climate of terrorism and extremism? We will never know unfortunately. While their will never be another Muhammad Ali, perhaps we need more examples like him today to show the type of compassion and understanding to help defeat terrorism.
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